What Is The SMARC Standard and What It Can Do For Your Design

In this first of a series of blog posts, we discuss various aspects of the SMARC standard, a critical component of our SOM portfolio, and what it means for our customers.

Published on August 22, 2023

What Is The SMARC Standard and What It Can Do For Your Design

The “Why” Behind SMARC

Oftentimes in hardware and software development, the technologies that endure and grow are those which become standardized and agreed-upon by developers. The ubiquity of wireless technologies like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth can be attributed in many ways to the establishment and codification of a standard by their respective interest groups, creating an interoperability and universality that functions like a rising tide that raises all boats.

Hardware standards share a similar advantage and are commonplace in computer peripherals. Standards like the PCI Express connector, the M.2 connector, standardization of sizes of common components and shared pin connector specifications are necessary to support a wide market of hardware options to the benefit of customers.

The world of embedded computing is no different, and within embedded computing many standards exist for many of the same reasons. As single board computers become a more common and critical piece of a growing ecosystem of mobile IoT applications, new standards are necessary to create a coherent path forward for developers and OEMs.

The Standardization Group for Embedded Technologies (SGET) is an international not-for-profit trade group dedicated to collaboration and defining industry standards to advance technology around the world. Their defined standards include Qseven, Embedded NUC, UIC, and OSM.

What is a SMARC?

SGET set out to create a defined computer module standard to address the needs of embedded computing: addressing low power consumption, low cost, and high performance in a few form factors (82 x 50 mm and 82 x 80 mm). In addition, the standard includes a defined pinout and electrical specification, serving as a guide for manufacturers to create consistent hardware offerings with the possibility of interoperability with other devices. This standard, first published in 2012, is given the name “SMARC,” which stands for Smart Mobility ARChitecture, and it’s based on the global ULP-COM standard, which was also developed to address low power computing needs.

An Overview of SMARC Modules

A typical SMARC module is built on the ARM architecture, although other SoC types are possible. The standard covers hardware dimensions, connectors, and pin assignments. Since the standard seeks to address low power and high performance, a typical SMARC module only requires a few watts of power. The two physical sizes also address slightly different purposes for an embedded computer: the 82 x 50 mm form factor is designed to be as compact as possible, while the 82 x 80 mm design allows extra space for more high-performance components and the cooling systems required.

The connector specified is a 314 pin edge connector, designed to be connected to a low-profile connector on a main board. The pins are dedicated to functions such as power supply, ground, interfaces like display, camera, SPI, audio, USB, SATA, PCIe, and more. The breakdown of the pin assignments has filled in with continuing updated versions of the standard (now up to version 2.1.1)

Future Trends in SMARC Modules

For OEMs, utilizing a SMARC module in a new hardware design has many benefits beyond just the usefulness of the SMARC standard itself. For product developers, utilizing a standardized form factor module grants a higher degree of confidence that a product design can be updated and refreshed with a form-fitting replacement. For OEMs whose product life cycles can be 10, 15, or 20 years long, this is a critical consideration that can guarantee a smooth transition to new wireless standards and functionality that isn’t available today.

The growth of the SMARC standard, for this reason, truly is the tide that raises all boats. As manufacturers continue to adopt and provide more offerings in the SMARC form factor, OEMs can have greater assurance that their product’s life cycles are covered by an evolving ecosystem of module offerings. Ezurio's (formerly Laird Connectivity) SMARC modules (the Nitrogen8M Plus SMARC, Nitrogen93 SMARC, and Tungsten700 SMARC) are part of a lengthy roadmap that intends to offer OEMs drop-in replacement options, multiple customizable wireless options, and more.

Ezurio's mission is simplifying connectivity for our customers, and SMARC SOM modules provide a trusted path forward for long design cycles such as those found in medical devices. As new use cases and wireless standards emerge, Ezurio will provide new and upgraded SMARC SOM products that give OEMs the easiest way to keep their legacy products up to date and on the cutting edge.

In the next post of this series, we’ll cover how Ezurio implements the SMARC standard in our system-on-modules, and what that means for our customers.